In the near future, where there’s smoke in New Zealand it may not be from a youth firing up a cigarette. Proposed legislation in the Land of the Long White Cloud aims to ban smoking for the next generation. Is this smoking cessation goal a legislative pipe dream or will the Long White Cloud in the island country soon be anything but cigarette smoke?
Last Thursday, proposed legislation was announced which would progressively raise the legal age, currently set at 18, for buying tobacco in New Zealand. Individuals who are age 14 when the law takes effect would never legally be able to purchase tobacco in the Land of the Long White Cloud. Holy smoke!
The proposed legislation will be considered by the New Zealand Parliament in 2022. Its passage is anticipated since the Labour Party, which holds a majority in the Parliament, has been pushing the Smokefree 2025 Action Plan as one of its headline policies. (You don’t have to be a mathematical genius to know that the majority rules.) The Action Plan’s goal is for less than 5% of New Zealanders to be smokers by 2025.
Why is smoking, of all things, being targeted by New Zealand lawmakers? The 4,000 to 5,000 people who die each year in New Zealand from smoking-related illnesses amounts to approximately 15% of the country’s 2019 population. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in New Zealand and causes one in four cancer cases there. This harm is particularly concentrated in indigenous and low-income communities.
On the bright side, the percentage of adults smoking in that country has declined over the last decade. Currently, 13.4% are classified as smokers as compared to 18.2% of smokers in 2011/2012. But concern exists for the next generation. The government has determined 4 out of 5 smokers start smoking before they are 18. Accordingly, the plan of action is to make sure that young people never start smoking. Pretty smart! If they don’t start, they don’t need to be concerned about stopping.
The proposed legislation seeks to nip smoking by youths in the bud (or perhaps butt, as in cigarette butt) by making tobacco products unavailable to them. Per its plan, anyone born in 2008 could not purchase cigarettes or tobacco products in their lifetime. Aww! If that’s the worst problem these youth have, they should be extremely grateful.
In addition to targeting the age of a lawful consumer, the suggested measure would target sellers of tobacco products. The number of sites authorized to sell these products would be reduced. So, both the (lawful) demand and available supply of the products are being targeted. And just in case the consumer doesn’t know he wants this product, he is less likely to be informed that he does. Tougher restrictions on tobacco advertising would be imposed.
But wait. There’s more. Even if a person is an authorized buyer, can see/read watered down ads telling them how they want the product, and can find authorized sales sites to purchase cigarettes, they may not want them. Why? Yet another proposal would decrease the legal amount of nicotine in the products to very low levels. The user is getting less nicotine bang for his buck–actually that would be for his New Zealand dollar a/k/a a “kiwi.”
While these proposals may seem harsh, they are not the first nor the only restrictive measure focused on tobacco products. New Zealand already has imposed high taxes on cigarette sales and requires plain packaging. But the prior measures haven’t eradicated the smoking problem, so apparently more pressure is needed to make smoking unaffordable and inaccessible.
To no one’s surprise, opponents of the proposed legislation are popping up and expressing concerns. If passed, the measure would contribute to the growing black market for tobacco. Organized crime groups are apparently already involved in smuggling tobacco products into New Zealand on a large scale. So, I guess a choice between lower crime and saving lives is presented. (Seems like a no-brainer to me, but no one asked me.)
Admittedly, the New Zealand plan would be the perhaps the world’s toughest on the purchase and consumption of tobacco. But, maybe the plan doesn’t even go far enough. What it doesn’t do is to regulate vaping. Many smokers turn to vaping in an effort to kick the (real) cigarette habit; it is also a highly popular activity for youth. Is New Zealand simply kicking the can down the road and getting rid of (real) cigarette smoking only to have to deal with e-cigarettes later?
Some may ask if such draconian measures as have been proposed in New Zealand are truly justified. Is smoking really that big of a problem? The answer is yes and not just in New Zealand. An estimated 1.3 billion (that’s billion with a “B”) tobacco users populate the world. Per the World Health Organization (“WHO”), tobacco consumption is “one of the biggest health threats the world has ever faced.” Including second-hand smoke, smoking kills over 8 million people EACH YEAR. Health concerns aside, cigarette smoking is also an environmental concern. Cigarette butts are one of the most common components of litter.
If passed and successful, the New Zealand legislation may be the model for other countries to follow. Nearby Australia has already taken some steps to reduce cigarette smoking. Back in 2012, it was the first country to mandate plain packaging of cigarettes. The U.S. would be a tougher stage on which to advocate for banning the smoking of “death sticks.” Someone in the U.S. might argue the “pursuit of happiness” referenced in the Declaration of Independence extends to the right to smoke them. Who knows what will happen after the smoke clears from such arguments?
Any effort to ban cigarettes could light a fire of controversy over the ability (right?) to light up. But I’m not blowing smoke to say lots of people won’t shed a tear if cigarettes are ultimately less affordable or even banned. Personally, you won’t need to hand me a tissue.
Would New Zealand be going too far if it bans cigarettes from the next generation? Why or why not? Do you foresee such steps ever being taken in the U.S.? Were you aware that the use of tobacco products was considered such a worldwide health problem?